Roadrunner Records UK brings you another "Gear Nerd" with Matt!
Roadrunner UK: So first up, how old were you when you picked up a guitar?
Matt Heafy: When I literally first touched a guitar?
When you picked it up and were like ‘this is what I wanna do’.
When I picked it up to play I was 11. When I first touched a guitar and posed with a guitar in a picture I was probably just a couple of months old. [Contemplates] Maybe 6 months old? 7 months old? Click here!
So music and guitars have been around you all your life?
They’ve been around, but I think my parents just wanted me to discover it myself, they never told me ‘oh hey go listen to these bands’. So the first thing I got into was pop punk and radio rock. As all kids from Florida do, ‘cause that’s all there is in Florida, pop punk and radio rock. So I got into those kinds of bands at first, like ska, and my first show was ‘Real Big Fish’, second show was like ‘Blink 182’. I tried out for like a pop punk ska band, my try out song was ‘Dammit’ (by Blink 182) but I wasn’t good enough to play it so they didn’t let me in their band. They’re actually still a band, I’m still buddies with them so they always joke about how they kicked me out, but they never let me in. I got the ‘Black Album’ (Metallica’s self titled release) when I was 12 and then I kind of rediscovered guitar and realised what else you could do with guitar. I got very much into metal at 12 and started practicing, made it into Trivium at 12 so yeah I practiced at ton when I got into metal.
So were you ‘self taught’ or did you have lessons?
Self taught for quite a bit of it, did lessons on and off for maybe two or three years, but I do not know anything formal music on guitar. I do on saxophone though…but that doesn’t help me on guitar.
So which came first, saxophone or guitar?
Guitar...er...let me think [contemplates] you know what- it might’ve been saxophone. It was in sixth grade, so however old I was then, I must’ve been 10 or so, yeah saxophone was first.
So your parents must have been quite supportive, did they buy you your first guitar?
Yeah, well the Les Paul I’m using in the ‘Shattering the Skies Above’ video is the first Les Paul my Dad ever got me- he got me that when I was 13 or 14. They were very supportive; my parents have always been very supportive, my family’s always been very supportive. My Dad managed the band from when I was about 13 till about…guess about a year ago. They still are and always have been very supportive.
So was that Les Paul the very first guitar you got?
The first guitar I got was probably like a Fender Strat Pack but I consider the first real guitar I got was that Les Paul Custom.
So who would you say has inspired you the most; who were you looking up to the most when you first started out
If it weren’t for James Hetfield (Metallica) I literally wouldn’t be here, I mean know that there are a lot of other musicians in that band aswell, especially from the ‘Black Album’ era, but it was Hetfield who really brought me into metal; like to see their live shows and see what a commanding presence he was, and to see how good of a guitar player he is. So, he got me into everything, then I bridged out from there.
What other music do you think have influenced your playing
So many. The first big chunk I got into, when I got into real metal was like, obviously ‘Metallica’, ‘Pantera’, ‘Megadeth’, ‘Testament’, ‘Slayer’, ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Judas Priest’, like those were all the bands I got into first. Then I got really heavily into melodic death metal, bands like ‘In Flames’ and ‘Children of Bodom’, ‘Arch Enemy’, ‘Dark Tranquility’, the list goes on and on through like ‘Opeth’, (thinks) what else?...there’s like so many melodic death metal bands, pretty much all of them like ‘Dusk Fall’, ‘Mercenary’ even though they are a Danish band...just all over the Scandinavian area. Erm, got a little into death metal, never too much into death metal, the band that influenced my playing the most was ‘Krisiun’, which is this ridiculously heavy death metal band from Brazil but I got my tremelo picking from them, which is like really fast picking, I got that from that band. Um, got into black metal then after that through bands like ‘Emperor’ and ‘Dimmu Borgir’ and ‘Mort Grooning’ [???- Ed] a Swedish band, ‘Dark Funeral’ and ‘Anorexia Nervosa’ is this French black metal band- ‘New Obscurantis Order’ is one of my favourite black metal albums. I joined a black metal band when I was like 16 or so in Florida wearing corpse paint, spiked armor, all that shit. Um, they kicked me out ‘cause I was still in Trivium and I wouldn’t leave Trivium. And I joined ‘Capharnaum’, which is a technical death metal band at like 16, 17 with Jason Suecof.
So I went through all the extreme metal things, towards my senior year, I guess I must have been 17 or so, when I started getting into hardcore, that era’s hardcore, bands like ‘Poison the Well’ and ‘Hatebreed’. ‘Tear from the Red’ (by Poison the Well) was really influential on me & Hatebreed’s ‘Perseverance’. I got into stuff like ‘Underoath’s’ ‘They’re Only Chasing Safety’ and ‘Beloved’s’ ‘Failure On’. Oddly enough, after being into satanic black metal I got into a lot of Christian metalcore and hardcore bands, a lot of Christian emo bands and I was into, still am into, bands like ‘Further Seems Forever’ and ‘Dashboard Confessional’, little things I never really talked about but were actually really big subtle influences on my sound, incorporated with huge bands like ‘Death’ and ‘In Flames’ and ‘Killswitch (Engage’) that all rolled into one I guess and helped craft some of my style and some of the interesting things that happened on ‘Ascendency’ and ‘Ember...'. So I was in and out of those things for a little while, not as long as black metal or melodic death metal or anything.
Anything outside of the metal genre that you think have influenced your playing style?
I think for me it's more like bands like ‘Further Seems Forever’ and ‘Dashboard...' maybe even like ‘My Chemical Romance’...things that took the guitar...I mean if you look at ‘Further Seems Forever’ mostly, every single chorus had a different guitar melody than a rhythm guitar part, same thing like ‘...Maiden’, so still it’s things that came from metal and probably came from metal bands that maybe they liked?
I remember when we did ‘The Crusade’ I got very heavily into ‘Queen’ and that’s pretty much all I would listen to and a little bit of ‘Kelly Clarkson’ and some pop stuff and when we were doing ‘Shogun’ really just into ‘The Beatles’. Lately, I’ve been into the entire ‘Depeche Mode’ catalogue, pretty much exclusively ‘Depeche Mode’ and classical music. Classical music has been the best thing I’ve listened to, it’s helped my playing out so much- not in a Yngwie Malmsteen way, like shreddy ridiculous arpeggios and stuff, even though I could do some of those stuff, not as much as I used to, I leave that to guys like ‘Dragonforce’. You know dudes like Malmsteen took classical in a lead guitar playing sense where I’ve been taking classical in a song writing sense. I just listen to it, I don’t know it formally but when people hear our new stuff they’ll know that it’s been a subtle influence in there and even and even the ‘Shattering...' chorus, the rhythm guitar part I’m playing is very classically involved using three not chords, three separate note chords versus the standard power chord, which be like the same note, octave and the fifth, so I know a little bit about music but not too much.
I’ve been getting into bands that are going really well with the graphic novels I’ve been reading, like ‘Depeche Mode’s’ ‘Sounds of the Universe’ goes incredibly with ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore. The new ‘Kings of Leon’ album actually goes well with ‘Preacher’, which is the greatest story ever, it’s the greatest thing across any medium I’ve ever read, seen , played, anything, ever, ‘Preacher’ by Garth Ennis. ‘Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Year Zero’ goes incredibly with ‘Sin City’ by Frank Miller and ‘Black Celebration’ by ‘Depeche Mode’ goes incredibly well with anything that involves Batman. So, graphic novels and just getting into anything, any kind of music is really helpful. The last couple of things I got was ‘Wavering Radiant’, the new ‘Isis’ album and ‘Panopticon’, so yeah everything from symphonic black metal to avantgarde, I also have this CD that’s all sort of Brazilian music which is really interesting, anything form jazz to flamenco music, yeah, all music is good music to me as long as it’s good, I just got the new ‘Pink’ album too, I just wanted to see what it was like because I just heard she just did 3 sold out months of Australia (???) Which is like as much as AC/DC.
With me, it’s all about the song and it’s all about bringing something to the table. I’ll like it if I like it. I don’t think I’ll ever like pop-country, I think pop-country is terrible. I do like some folk bands like ‘The Devil Makes Three’, this incredibly guitar trio band that has no drummer and ‘Olver’ [ ?- Ed] is one of my favourite bands, used to be a black metal band that recorded out in the forest then went to make this thing that was the soundtrack for this movie that never came out, then had this album that they read passage from William Blake in."
Roadrunner UK: So how would you describe your playing style? What would you say is the Matt Heafy playing style?
Matt Heafy: That’s something that we’re finding out more and more now, you know what really is each of us in the band, so when we do this next record it’s gonna be more accurate of what we are. I think a huge thing with my guitar playing is I guess that fusion between melodic death metal and metal and utilizing thrash picking- thrash right hand but not thrash left hand. I’m not really a thrash left hand person where it would be chromatic power chords thrown all over the fret board but more calculated about good melodies happening with the left hand with an approach of like thrash metal on the right hand, I guess. So, the left hand that’s death metal that’s inspired by bands like ‘Iron Maiden’, ‘Judas Priest’ with the right hand inspired by bands like ‘Slayer’ and ‘Pantera’. I guess with more recent bands being like ‘Death’, like the right hand approach of ‘Death’ with the left hand approach of old school ‘In Flames’ or ‘At the Gates’ or something. I guess that melodic and catchy and to be able to sound like a song with one guitar player- that’s how I try to write rhythms and my leads? I definitely recognize I’m a better melodic solo player than a shreddy dude. I leave all that shit to Corey [Bealieu]. Even though I can do some of it, so I do some of it sometimes.
So you guys are known for having great solos in your songs and you obviously have guitar duals and stuff going on. How do you guys put those together and write your solos?
Each album is different. With ‘Ascendency’, we pretty much planned out every single solo, ‘Crusade’ I think they were all improv’d and memorized from there. ‘Shogun’ was half and half. Moving forward I think I’m gonna do it more like I did with ‘Shattering...’ where I do plan it out and I think planning is the best way to go for me. To actually make the solo into a song and make it something special.
When you are putting it together are there key elements that you look for in a solo that you try and insert into them?
Yeah, to have to be able to be identifiable by itself. There are so many dudes that can play six billion notes a second but it’s very hard to pick out who that is, who that guitar player is. I mean if you want to think modern guys like Mike Amott (of ‘Arch Enemy’) you always know it’s him. With me, if I hear a solo from Mike Amott of ‘Arch Enemy’ I always know it’s his playing- little things like the subtle phaser on his solo and the occasional wah and really big open melodies. I feel like I’m finding more and more what my solo style is, it’s that kind of incorporation of I guess blues / old school heavy metal based soloing but with the occasional like [John] Petrucci-esque [of ‘Dream Theater’] sextuplet type run type thing.
So tell us about your endorsers, you’ve had a few over the years. Who have you been endorsed by?
I am full on now 100% representing Gibson guitars for the Les Paul Customs, Explorers, their 7-string Explorers and SG300 acoustics, which I don’t do live obviously. Marshall, I use JVM210H through a 1960 BB cab. So Gibson, Marshall, Dunlop for strings, picks, accessories, straps, strap locks and EMG pick ups…and I believe that’s it. And my rig nowadays is just my guitar into a head that goes straight into the PA so I don’t actually use a cab or mic or anything, I use no pedals, no channel switching, nothing- just a guitar and one channel.
Who have you been endorsed by in the past and what inspired the change?
When I first started touring I was playing Gibson and Peavey, Peavey because I was using Peavey heads through Marshall cabs, Marshall Cabs because I already owned them as a kid. The first amp I bought I think was a Marshall valve-state, so I bought a Marshall half-stack first, but for touring, Peavey because Jason [Suecof] used a lot of Peavey in the studio and it was a great tone that was easy to find for our sound. We were kind of a small band at the time so Gibson weren’t ready or willing to work with us yet and we were approached by Rita Hainey and Dean Zelinsky to join Dean [Guitars]. We joined Dean for a while and we were treated really well at that time. Dean [Zelinsky] then let go of Dean [Guitars] and he was the guy that partially brought us in and he was the dude who was creating our guitars and we didn’t have our dude anymore so we took off. At that time Gibson got in touch with us miraculously and they were like ‘we’d like to work with you’ and so it was my dream to be with them. So, the only other ex-company, we had Peavey and Dean, I think that’s it but Corey still plays Peavey heads, Marshall cabs and Jackson guitars.
So what makes Gibson special for you? What is it you love about those guitars?
For me, it’s always been the best guitar company. It was the first guitar company I ever loved. I’ve been able to see the Gibson plant and watch the amount of hand made work that goes into it. I mean the white binding that goes around the guitar is actually hand carved out by a human being, which is insane because most guitar companies, their hand-built is they take their hand and shove this piece of wood through a machine and guitar comes out the other side. I’ve seen that in many different companies. It’s all down to the quality and that Les Paul that I’ve had since I was 13, 14 I’m still using now. We used to use it when I didn’t really have a good guitar case, we’d thrown it in the back of the trailer and it got beat up and smashed up and it’s still the best sounding and playing one I have. So I guess in the end it’s all about personal preference, but for me it’s personal preference and quality and their shit is definitely high quality.
So what’s your practice regime like when you’re on the road and off the road?
On the road, at least always warming up for 5-15 minutes a day and I always use- I memorized- the John Petrucci ‘Rock Discipline Warmups’. I actually got to tell him that in person for the first time at Download which I was really stoked about. I’ve been using that since I was about 16. I’m not as good as he is but I still warm up with it, try to at least. If I go more to that I just play for an hour or two hours or whenever or how long. At home, I do play a lot but it’s more so jamming and writing, it’s not really practicing to learn something new exactly but if I feel that I need to, I’ll do it and I’ll sit there with a metronome and a classical guitar stool, foot pedal, all that and go for it. But it’s just about jamming and writing and trying to come up with the best riffs for the next record.
So when you were a kid, how often did you practice? Did you drive your folks mad?
Oh no not mad at all, but I practices a lot. Some days not at all, some days the 5-6 hours a day, if there was like a weekend or no school or something I’d just play throughout the day, yeah, a lot.
So what tips would you give a budding guitarist?
If you’re just a guitar player, ya know anything’s possible, all this crazy shit that humans are doing is possible, it just takes time to learn it, and then you work your way up. But if you’re in a band and making music, it’s all about the song first, the heavy brutal shit comes last, the technical flashy shit comes last, it’s all about coming up with really cool songs that you like that you’re audience can enjoy as well.